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Re: Complaint by David Sutton (ref: DS/04/2015)

Date of complaint: 17 March 2015 Article complained of: “So a judge said a 16-year-old groomed
her teacher – that’s nothing” published on 15/01/2015

1. Throughout this decision, Mr Sutton will be referred to as “the complainant” and the above
mentioned article as “the article”. Guardian News & Media will be referred to as “GNM”, the
former Press Complaints Commission Code as “the Code”, and the Review Panel as “the
panel”.

The Article

2. The article complained of is a comment piece written by Julie Bindel. It opens with a summary
of the trial judge’s comments in the case of Stuart Kerner. Mr. Kerner was convicted of sexual
activity with a girl who was sixteen at the time of the offence. The victim was a pupil at the
school where Mr. Kerner was vice-principal. In sentencing Mr. Kerner to a suspended
sentence, the judge commented that he had been groomed by the victim.

3. The article then goes on to look at other similar cases where the defendants were either given
lenient sentences and/or the judge made comments suggesting the victim was at fault. The
thrust of the article is that these types of comments by judges are, sadly, not a new
phenomenon and calls upon change.

The Complaint

4. The complainant complains that the article, in referring to another case (the Neil Wilson case)
fell into error when it stated that Mr. Wilson was given a suspended prison sentence for having
sex with a 13-year-old girl. Following a complaint to the Reader’s Editor (RE), the article was
corrected. The following now appears as a footnote to the online version of the article.

“This article was amended on 19 January 2015. An earlier version said that Neil
Wilson was given a suspended sentence in 2013 for having sex with a 13-
yearold girl. Wilson was convicted of sexual activity with a child, not rape. The
court of appeal later lifted the suspension on his sentence and replaced it with
a prison term.”

5. The instant complaint is the fourth in a series of complaints about articles making reference
to the Wilson case. The first complaint was about an article entitled “Misogyny runs

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so deep in this society, it is even used against abused children” by Polly Toynbee published
on 7 August 2013. This comment piece centred on the Wilson case. It incorrectly stated that
the child victim in the case had given evidence during the court proceedings. Following a
complaint by this complainant, the article was corrected and the following footnote appears
under the online version of the article.
“This article was amended on 7 August 2013. It originally stated that the
13year-old girl gave evidence in court. She did not do so as the case was taken
to court by the police based on witness statements. This has been corrected.”

6. The second complaint was against an article entitled “The painful lesson of the Cherice
Moralez rape trial” by Hadley Freeman published on 3 September 2013. The piece attacks the
trend of the criminal justice system to deflect blame away from defendants and rather direct
it at the female victims of sexual assaults. The article uses cases from other jurisdictions to
illustrate this point. The article was corrected by the RE following a complaint from this
complainant. However, further complaint was made to the former Press Complaints
Commission (PCC) which upheld the complaint. The online version of the article now bears
this footnote following intervention by the PCC.
“This article was amended on 6 December 2013 to remove from the opening
paragraph two quotes from the case of Neil Wilson which had been wrongly
used in the context of rape. It was further amended on 28 February 2014 to
clarify: Neil Wilson was accused of (and pleaded guilty to) sexual activity with
a child, not rape.”

7. The third article complained about by this complainant was published on 29 November 2013
and is entitled “Sexual violence against girls - we must open our eyes” by Deborah Orr. The
online version again, following complaint to the RE is followed by this footnote.
“This article was amended on 30 November 2013 to remove an incorrect
reference.”

8. In the original print version of the article, the defendant in the Wilson case, was described
incorrectly as a “41 year old rapist”. This was then corrected to replace “rapist” with the word
“paedophile”.

9. The complainant, in his complaint to this panel makes it clear that he remains unhappy with
the way in which GNM has corrected the articles he complained about. In relation to the
instant complaint, he says that, notwithstanding the corrections made, GNM are still in breach
of clause 1 ii) of the former PCC code.

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Registered in England No. 6706464
Registered office : Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG
10. Clause 1 ii) states
“ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised
must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where
appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Commission,
prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance.”

Discussion

11. The crux of the complaint is that given the number of times the Wilson case (and, according
to the complainant, other cases involving sexual offences) has been referred to inaccurately,
the requirement of due prominence is not met by corrections appearing on an article by article
basis, at the foot of the online edition of those articles.

12. The panel have sympathy with the point the complainant makes. We agree with the
complainant’s assertion that the fact that the four articles have repeated similar inaccuracies
in relation to the Wilson case, gives cause for concern. Despite the obligation to report criminal
matters accurately and fairly, GNM worryingly appear to have got it wrong on at least four
occasions. The panel is of the view that this was not up to the standard to be expected of GNM
or its journalists.

13. Further, having seen the formal response from GNM submitted to this panel in response to
the complaint, the panel are of the view that GNM have failed to treat this complaint with the
seriousness it deserves.

14. The panel therefore unanimously uphold this complaint. The panel think it inadequate, given
the number and nature of the inaccuracies, for corrections to merely appear in the corrections
column or, alternatively as a footnote to the online edition of the article complained of.

15. Where, as may well be the case here, a particular journalist/columnist has a considerable
following in print, the panel considers that it would be more appropriate for the correction to
appear at the foot of the piece next written by the journalist, rather than in the corrections
column. That, in the view of the panel, would result in more of the original readers of the
corrected article actually seeing the correction.

16. The panel are of the view that in order to meet the “due prominence” test the correction, in
addition to being “prominent” in its ordinary and natural meaning, ought also to clearly
reference the inaccuracy being corrected. In particular the online correction made to the

The Scott Trust Ltd


Registered in England No. 6706464
Registered office : Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG
Deborah Orr piece on 30 November 2013 is inadequate. The reader of the online version
would have no idea what words the correction in fact referred to. Although the panel
considers caution may well be required so as to avoid repeating the inaccuracy in the footnote
correction, we nonetheless consider that such corrections must make plain to the reader just
what inaccuracy is being corrected. The panel notes however, that a fuller correction in
relation to the Deborah Orr article appeared in the corrections column on 6 December 2013.

17. The panel is further of the view that in a complaint such as this one, where a significant
criminal case has been misreported on a number of occasions, the reader ought to be able to
search on the GNM website for all corrections made in respect of the misreported case. This
will not be possible if the footnote correction does not (as in the Deborah Orr article) name
the misreported case.

18. Finally, the panel is of the view that as this decision will be available to the public on the GNM
website, this will go some way to addressing the due prominence issue raised by this
complaint, as will the recommendations made below.

Recommendations

19. The panel will contact the managing editor of GNM with its concerns raised as a result of this
complaint. In particular, the panel will recommend a review of GNM’s systems in relation to
reporting of high profile and/or other cases, with a view to avoiding the repeat of serious
inaccuracies such as those thrown up by this complaint.

20. Where appropriate and warranted by the nature and degree of the inaccuracy, consideration
should be given by GNM to publishing a correction at the foot of the next article written by
the journalist//columnist concerned. The panel acknowledges that this will only be
appropriate perhaps where the inaccuracy appeared in a regular weekly column.

21. Any footnote corrections appearing online with regard to criminal cases ought, as a very
minimum contain the following
a. The name of the case concerned
b. The facts/words that were inaccurate
c. The words replacing the previous inaccuracy.

The Scott Trust Ltd


Registered in England No. 6706464
Registered office : Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG
SIGNED:

Chair: John Willis

Panel member: Geraldine Proudler

Panel Member: Elinor Goodman

Dated:

The Scott Trust Ltd


Registered in England No. 6706464
Registered office : Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG